Know Thy Opponent 2012: Eastern Michigan Eagles

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 17: Alex Gillett #8 from Eastern Michigan Eagles gets ready to hand the ball off to Javonti Greene #32 in the first quarter of the game against the University of Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Eastern Michigan 31-3. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

What Big Ten schedule would be complete without some delicious MACtion? Even last year we could not escape the first season since 1998 in which Purdue did not play a MAC team. That year we open at USC before hosting Rice and Central Florida then going to Notre Dame. Last year was the first non-MAC year since then, but the bowl game against Western Michigan prevented that. Now we have 1998 and 1996 as the only seasons of the past 20 that did not have a MAC opponent.

It may not be a good thing, either. In the regular season Danny Hope is a rather dismal 2-2 against the conference I like to think of as the Little Big Ten. He lost to Northern Illinois 28-21 in 2009 and Toledo 31-20 in 2010 while only beating Ball State 24-13 in a rather lackluster 2010 game and Ralph Bolden running wild on Toledo in his debut. That trend had better not continue against an Eastern Michigan team that moved from Abyssmally Bad to Somewhat Respectable in 2011.

Eastern Michigan Eagles

2011 Record: 6-6

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The Hustle Belt, Eagle Totem

Series with Purdue: Purdue Leads 1-0

Last Purdue win: 9/7/1991 at Purdue 49-3

Last Season for the Eagles

The last time Purdue played Eastern Michigan was the coaching debut of one Jim "A Tie Is As A Good As A Win In The Big Ten" Colletto. His charges drubbed the Eagles, who would go 3-7-1, 49-3 in Ross-Ade Stadium, marking the high point of the Colletto Era. Purdue would go on to lose at California and at home to Notre Dame before beating Northwestern, Michigan State, and Wisconsin in Big Ten play. Surely tons of speed and coaching excellence was on display in Purdue's 6-3 loss at Minnesota on my 12th birthday that year.

Getting back to the present: Eastern Michigan has normally been awful even by MAC standards. They went 0-for-2009 with their nearest win coming in a 29-27 cripple fight loss to 2-10 Ball State. Last season they were 6-6 for their first non-losing season since 1995. The program has not been to a bowl game since 1987.

Two of their wins were over I-AA teams Howard and Alabama State. They also beat Akron, Central Michigan, Buffalo, and won the Directional Michigan Championship with a surprising 14-10 win over Western Michigan.

Eastern Michigan Offense:

There is a real life blog preview available for Eastern Michigan, and it seems impressed by the offense:

The offensive starters certainly looked sharp, especially Senior Quarterback Alex Gillett. Our running attack should not miss a beat this year, perhaps we will even see improvement as the three-headed monster of Sherrer, Greene, and White will surely drive each other to perform at a high level. The passing attack should also be improved, although I didn't see anything from our receiving corps that leads me to believe we will have an explosive threat on the outside.

It appears as if the Eagles will try to have a more balanced offense behind Gillett, who started all 12 games a year ago. He only threw for 1,504 yards and 14 TDs, but limited himself to seven interceptions. Expect him to be very active on the ground too, as he led the Eagles with 736 yards rushing and three scores.

Javonti Greene (667-6), Dominique White (596-5), and Dominique Sherrer (572-2) are almost dead even as the running back. Combined with Gillett, this is a potent rushing attack that ran for over 2,500 yards. Naturally, that cuts down on sacks, as Eastern Michigan gave up only 19. The offensive line is also obviously decent if it can pave the way for that many yards on the ground.

The receivers look to be led by tight end Garrett Hoskins, who caught 22 passes for 328 yards and three scores. This is not a big play passing team by any stretch. Nick Olds, a 6'2" receiver from Columbus East High here in Indiana, led them with just 24 catches for 342 yards and three scores. Demarius Reed (11-118-2) is the only other receiver back with more than 10 catches.

Obviously, we'll need to prepare for the run. That's what makes the new 3-4 here so interesting. We'll need lateral pursuit while Kawann Short tries to have a dominant game inside. Ryan Russell had a solid bowl game against similar opposition, so look for him to have a big game as well. I am interested to see how Will Lucas does on the outside here.

For a look at the Eagles, here is some video from their game against Michigan last season, a 31-3 loss:


Eastern Michigan Defense:

The Eagles were hardly a defensive juggernaut, and when coupled with an offense that didn't put up a ton of points that naturally led to a 6-6 finish. Toledo scored 54 on them, but they were generally okay in giving up less than 40 points per game in their other 11 outings. It may not seem like much, but it is drastic improvement over giving up 70+ twice in 2010. In fact, the defensive unit cut its points given up down to 292 last year from 527 in 2010.

The running game of Akeem Hunt and Akeem Shavers should be able to get moving against a unit that gave up over 140 yards on the ground per game. Senior linebacker Justin Cudworth led the team with 83 tackles, but is undersized at 5'11", 220 lbs. Defensive back Marcell Rose was fourth on the team in tackles with 59, but the second and third leading tacklers are gone.

Eastern Michigan must find a pass rush after losing Brad Ohrman and his team leading 5.5 sacks. It seems as if this team has been hit heavily by graduation losses on the defensive side of the ball:

While our defense did a nice job against the offense when Benz was in, they were picked apart by Gillett. I'm having a hard time assessing what that means, is our offense led by our Senior QB that efficient, or is our defense lagging that far behind. I daresay it is a mixture of the two. Our linebacker corps of Andy Mulumba, Cudworth, and ColinWeingrad is pretty solid, but the D-line needs to improve. Here's hoping between now and September they get a little more stout up front.

As for the secondary, I feel we have a pretty athletic group back there, led by Marlon Pollard and Marcell Rose. New starter Sean "Pudge" Cotton (not sure why his nickname is Pudge, did he used to be a catcher?) was definitely involved on defense, and he should develop into a very nice strong safety for us.

I don't think it is a good sign when a safety, a guy who is supposed to be fast and agile, is named Pudge. I am sure Sean Cotton is a nice guy, but seriously? Pudge?

From what I can see this needs to be a game, like the eastern Kentucky game, where the offense gets in a rhythm. We never had that last year except for the Southeast Missouri State game. Of course, that result is an outlier because we were so much more physically dominant than a I-AA team. If the Caleb TerBush vs. Robert Marve battle is still going on at this point I hope this is the game that settles it. We need to stick with the hot hand here and go.

I'd also like to see us get some passes to our bigger receivers like Charles Torwudzo and Shane Mikesky. If they have a guy named Pudge let's test his speed deep.

Eastern Michigan Special Teams:

Kody Fulkerson was a decent kicker, going 14 for 21 last year with a long of 48 yards. They aren't afraid to try him from long range, as his longest attempt was 53. he also had no misses from 37 yards in.

Jay Karutz returns as a punter averaging 38.8 yards per boot, but it's not like we have much of a punt return game anyway.

The return units don't present a danger on kickoffs, but Demarius reed averaged 12.8 yards per punt return with a score last season. Sherrer will probably be back on kicks, but they averaged a dismal 18.6 yards per return. Therefore, expect touchbacks if we reach the end zone.

Game Outlook:

This is one of the "Must Win" games on the schedule and one of four games (Eastern Kentucky, Marshall, and Indiana being the other three) that Purdue fans are circling as games we should win. Being a Big Ten team, that's what happens when you play the MAC.

That said, the MAC always gets a few Big ten scalps every year, and lately we have been vulnerable to being that team. Purdue has at least not fallen to the level of losing to I-AA teams, but we are certainly not above gacking away a game such as this. We need only look at the last three seasons, with losses to Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Rice. In fact, the Rice loss was probably the worst of those three, and this Eastern Michigan team is better than that.

This is a game where we need to force Gillett to throw while taking advantage of an inexperienced defense. Purdue needs to get ahead in this game and keep them at bay, because once these MAC schools start hanging around and smelling blood they are very dangerous. We failed to do that against Toledo and Northern Illinois. In fact, we rarely were ahead in both of those games if at all.

Prediction:

The Akeems run for 150 yards and the passing game gets three scores as the offense takes advantage of a relatively green defense. Eastern Michigan makes some headway on the ground, but Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson handle the outside passing game and the defensive line wears them down. Purdue 31, Eastern Michigan 17

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